How to Determine If Your Sales Opportunity is Real – Part 1

Photo by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash.

As sellers, our most valuable resource is our time.  If we had more time, we could close more business.  But, since the onset of virtual selling, it’s been a lot more difficult for sales reps to qualify and win opportunities because we have less access and limited time with decision makers. And while we are working one deal, we are losing another.  So, we better make sure that we are working the right deals – and those aren’t just the biggest ones.  How do we know which are the best opportunities to spend our time on? 

We wanted to examine the factors in determining whether sellers are pursuing a qualified opportunity – as well as the keys to ensure that sales reps are getting the information they need to determine if they are serving the right customers or chasing the wrong sales opportunity. 

This 4 step process will guide sales reps on how to actually qualify and navigate this part of the sales cycle. 

We approached this idea in a series of two blogs, so remember to check out Part 2 next. 

If you’d prefer to listen to a conversation about this topic on the go, feel free to check out SALES with ASLAN podcast episode 115:


The 4 Step Process to Determine “Is the Opportunity Real?”

Our time is limited and it’s our most valuable resource as sellers. Where we choose to spend that time will determine our level of success. So it is of critical importance that sales reps have the ability to determine where their time is best spent. 

“Everytime we’re chasing a deal, we’re losing a deal.” 

There are 4 tangible steps that sellers can take to evaluate their sales opportunities and determine which ones to pursue. Those 4 steps are essentially 4 questions that need to get answered in order for sales reps to determine if the opportunity is real. 

(By “real” opportunity we mean, “Is there a real problem we can solve?” and “Are they really going to invest in this type of solution?”)

We’ll give you the 4 questions you must ask yourself, as well as approaches for sellers to get the answers to those questions.

Let’s unpack the first one:


Question 1: “Do you have access to the real decision maker(s)?”

This question is one that we see sales reps often miss, but one that should be at the forefront of our minds, especially as we start the sales process. Salespeople can get caught up in talking to someone (an evaluator, for example) about a problem the organization has that relates to a solution the seller can provide, and lose sight of this key question. 

If the person doesn’t, you are caught up talking to someone who has no say in the final decision. 

It’s becoming more and more common that the decision maker(s) delegate the task of looking for solution providers to someone else, but may not ever intend to meet with the potential partner. They are just ‘kicking tires.’ The danger here is that what the evaluator thinks and wants could be very different from what the decision maker wants and/or how the decision maker will ultimately make a final call to invest in the type of solution you sell. 

The quality flow of information you want and need as a seller comes from talking to the right people. 

There are certainly exceptions to this, but this should be our mindset as we go about qualifying a sales opportunity. That brings us to the “plays we can run” to go about getting this information:


Approach #1: Have the Right Mindset.

We know many successful reps who take this approach upfront with an evaluator or gatekeeper, by leading with something like this: “I’ve seen situations like this, and if I can’t talk to _____ person/people, typically it doesn’t go too well. You and I both spend a lot of time on something that probably won’t come to fruition.” 

Sometimes, you have to be willing to walk away if you can’t access the right people – but conversely, taking this approach often builds your credibility as a potential partner and therefore gets you in the right room. It can create curiosity and a sense of urgency on the behalf of the client. 

Candidly, this is a gray area that can be tricky for sellers to pull off. There’s a risk of coming across as self-centered, because you’re trying to figure out, “Am I wasting my time?” which can sound very self-centered. (And if you’re familiar with ASLAN you know our philosophy is based on being Other-CenteredⓇ). But the truth is, this is not a self-centered question. What you’re trying to figure out is if you can actually serve this customer, or if you can better serve someone else. 

Think about an orthopedic surgeon. If you come to them with a kidney problem, they can’t really serve you. And you’re actually keeping them from helping someone else, with a knee problem for example. It’s not self-centered for them to refer you to someone else. It’s the right thing to do. 

Remember, as a sales rep, you solve certain problems – and you need to spend your time with the prospects and customers who have the problems that you can solve. It’s about fulfilling your mission.


Approach #2: Get a Coach. 

If you’re selling to an individual, this probably won’t apply. But if you’re selling in a larger or more complex situation, you’ll likely need a coach – someone on the inside who knows what’s going on, can walk you through the internal process, tells you who the decision-makers are, shares what’s on their whiteboard and what the decision drivers are.

It’s hard to get that information without someone on the inside. If you have enough meetings and ask enough questions, you may be able to get this intel on your own. But having a coach, even further on in the process, will ultimately help you determine what to present and ultimately what recommendation to make. 

Remember, a coach is somebody within the account that cares about your success, and will benefit from your solution being adopted. They are typically outside of the decision making process, but know the players and the factors involved. They can help you understand everything that is at play within the opportunity. Your coach wants the problem at hand to be solved and they want you to solve it. 


Approach #3: Ask Tough Questions.

Selling is challenging and sales reps work so hard to find an opportunity and get a meeting. Finally, when we do get the chance to meet with someone, we tend to get so excited that we just do whatever our customer or prospect wants us to. 

But in order to be successful in sales, you’re going to have to ask tough questions – which many sellers balk at. They don’t want to appear self-centered or self-serving. But we can’t shy away from asking questions just because we’re afraid of putting someone off or we’re afraid of the answer. 

Here are a few examples of tough, but critical questions to use when qualifying an opportunity:

“Dream with me a little bit… I know we’re early in the relationship, but let’s just assume that you believe or you discover that our solution is an absolute perfect fit. What would have to happen now? What would be the next step? Walk me through the process. Put me in the room. Who would you meet to discuss with? Who needs to be on board? What would you say to them?”

You don’t need to ask each and every one of those final questions, but that’s the idea. This early in the game, as you’re trying to determine if the opportunity is real, you’re probably not talking to the decision maker yet. But you need to if you want to really qualify the opportunity. 

This “play” ties back into what we discussed about mindset. You can position your approach/ your questions in an Other-Centered way to an evaluator (or whoever you’re talking to in this first step). 

The best way to communicate your mindset is to say something like: 

“My role here is to help you figure out the right solution, and so I want to help you and prepare you to have the right conversations and give you the resources that you need to communicate with your team internally so that you can help your organization make the right decision.”

The message you’re really sending is, “I want to make you look good. I want to elevate you in the eyes of your organization and I want to make sure you’re set up for success.”

You may also want to share something along these lines:

“You’re sharing with me what you’re trying to do and I want to help you do that. I want to prepare you. You’re meeting with X number of companies to learn about their solutions, and you’re  going to try to keep all that straight and then your job, after an hour long meeting with each of us, is to articulate what each company and their solution does. If you haven’t selected an XYZ partner often, it can be hard to end up with an informed decision you are happy with.  I do it every single day, and I’d like to help you do that well.”


This is your “why” and it is so important to communicate that to whoever you’re speaking with. It’s your Other-Centered reason for asking about the process and who’s involved, etc.

Being able to articulate this will help sellers who feel awkward or uncomfortable asking those difficult questions. That’s why mindset is key when asking hard questions. So be bold, dive into the tough questions, and determine whether or not you can be of service. 

Trying to determine if you can actually serve this particular customer, (which requires asking hard questions), is actually an Other-Centered thing to do. It’s in the customer’s best interest, and yours, for you to do so. 


Summing It Up

Following these 4 steps (questions) will give sales reps the information they need to proceed with the opportunity or not. 

The bottom line is this: if you don’t have access to the decision maker, you cannot determine if the sales opportunity is real.  So have the right mindset, get yourself a coach on the inside, and don’t shy away from asking tough questions. 

Check out Part 2 of this blog series (where we unpack the next 3 steps) on how to determine whether or not a sales opportunity is real.


What Next?

Do you and your sales team need help learning more strategies to convert the unreceptive and disinterested customer? We’ve designed a program for the toughest challenges in sales.

If you’re interested in reading more, check out my new book unReceptive: A Better Way to Sell, Lead, and Influence.  It ships from Amazon on Nov 9th, so be sure to secure your copy today!

As Co-founder and CEO, Tom’s primary role is to create content that helps people live, sell, and serve more effectively. Find him on LinkedIn

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